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January 31, 2016
by Henry M. Pittman, MA

Discipline & Parental Abuse

January 31, 2016 01:49 by Henry M. Pittman, MA  [About the Author]

When human babies are born, they are totally helpless. The babies need the parent for total survival. As the child begins to develop into a toddler, preschooler, and an adolescent, the once helpless babies, are now taking on an identity of themselves. As parents teach their children the difference between right and wrong along with socially appropriate behavior, discipline is often used. According to Merriam and Webster Online (2015), discipline is the “control that is gained by requiring that rules or orders be obeyed and punishing bad behavior.” There are parents who have children whether they are biological, adopted, or foster, can misused and abuse the act of discipline. Discipline is a viable and needed entity in the development of a children’s behavior. However when discipline is taken too far, Child Protective Services become involved and parents could be charged based on the findings of the investigation such as a couple in Waterbury, CT.

George and Nancie Barnes of Waterbury, CT have been charged with parental abuse to their five adopted children. The children ages range from nine to eighteen. The discipline act that the Barnes is charges with is locking the children up in the bathroom of extending periods of time and even months along with having them to stand up the entire time (Polansky & Campbell, 2015). Baby monitors were placed in the bathroom so the parents could view and see if they were standing up. The only time they were not confined to the bathroom is for school and to go to sleep. Officials became aware of the inappropriate discipline by one of the five adopted children told their school resource officer (Polansky & Campbell, 2015). The children have been removed from the home and are currently with the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Types of Abuse

There are six types of abuse as defined by Child Welfare Information Gateway (2014) which are physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse/exploitation, emotional abuse, parental substance abuse, and an abandonment. Physical abuse is defined as “any nonaccidental physical injury to the child” and can include striking, kicking, burning, or biting the child, or any action that results in a physical impairment of the child (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2014, p2).” Neglect is defined as “the failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision to the degree that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2014, p2).” Sexual abuse falls under physical abuse; however sexual abuse is very distinct. Sexual abuse and sexual exploitation share the same category to include children in prostitution or participating in child pornography.

Emotional abuse is defined as “injury to the psychological capacity or emotional stability of the child as evidenced by an observable or substantial change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition” and injury as evidenced by “anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2014, p2).” Parental substance abuse is defined as (1) prenatal exposure of a child to harm due to the mother’s use of an illegal drug or other substance; (2) manufacture of a controlled substance in the presence of a child or on the premises occupied by a child; (3) allowing a child to be present where the chemicals or equipment for the manufacture of controlled substances are used or stored; and (4) selling, distributing, or giving drugs or alcohol to a child (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2014). Abandonment is defined as “…parent’s identity or whereabouts are unknown, the child has been left by the parent in circumstances in which the child suffers serious harm, or the parent has failed to maintain contact with the child or to provide reasonable support…(Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2014, p2)”

Parenting Style & Its Impact

There are four types of parenting styles. Authoritative is a healthy parenting style were the parent demonstrates balance and flexibility regarding discipline. Authoritarian is an unhealthy parenting style that is believes in corporal punishment. Neglectful is an unhealthy parenting style that simply does not engaged with their children. Permissive parenting style is an unhealthy parenting style that provides no structure and allows the children to do whatever they want with no natural consequences.

Discipline techniques and parenting styles have a major influence on child’s behavior and in later adulthood. Pederson & Fite (2014) conducted a study regarding the symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder which is a very common disorder and it’s relation to parenting styles. The outcome of the study concluded that negative parenting styles influence the symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder. In other words, the more ineffective the parenting style the worse the degree of symptoms the child demonstrated. Taillieu & Brownridge (2013) conducted a study regarding high and low inductive parents. The findings were high inductive parents that used corporal punishment or psychological aggression negatively impact children which manifested itself in emotional adjustment problems early adulthood.


There a four types of parenting styles. The authoritarian parenting style uses corporal punishment or psychological aggression in correcting bad behavior. The form of discipline falls under The Child Welfare Gateway definition of physical and emotional abuse. Parents are receiving legal sdf charges for using that type of discipline as demonstrated by George and Nancie Barnes of Waterbury, CT for locking children in the bathroom when they misbehaved. Corporal punishment or psychological aggression has a long term effect on child which hinders them emotionally. The best parenting is have an authoritative parenting style with flexible disciplinary techniques. Parenting in which the format of the discipline was educated to the child, the child was more receptive to negative consequences he or she engaged in negative behaviors (Davidov & Grusec 2012). 


Davidov, M. m., Grusec, J. E., & Wolfe, J. L. (2012). Mothers' Knowledge of Their Children's Evaluations of Discipline: The Role of Type of Discipline and Misdeed, and Parenting

Practices. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 58(3), 314-340.Merriam-Webster Online. (2015). 

Polansky, R. & Campbell, M. (2015) Protective order issued against parents accused of locking children in bathroom. CNN. Retrieved from 

Pederson, C.A. & Fite, P.J. (2014). The impact of parenting on the association between child aggression subtypes and oppsotional defiant disorder symptoms. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev, (45), 725 – 735. 

Taillieu, T. u., & Brownridge, D. (2013). Aggressive Parental Discipline Experienced in Childhood and Internalizing Problems in Early Adulthood. Journal Of Family Violence, 28(5),445 -458. 

About the Author

Henry M. Pittman Henry M. Pittman, MA

Henry M. Pittman came into the field of counseling through substance use disorders in the fall of 1997. He was a substance abuse tech at a hospital in Houston, TX and what he saw motivated him to take all the counseling hours needed to become a substance abuse counselor in 1998. Since then he has pursed the required education and knowledge to become a master level counselor and therapist.

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